I’m afraid of heights. It’s not a secret. I hate getting on ladders, won’t get on the roof to hang Christmas lights, hate climbing up the stairs at Reser Stadium at my alma mater, Oregon State University, when I go to a football game. On a plane, heights don’t bother me because 1) I can’t see below the aircraft (thank goodness for FLOORS) and 2) I’m already freaking out because I’m claustrophobic. But put me on an elevator made of glass (OMG the Space Needle in Seattle? I almost threw up on the ride to the top), or ask me to have drinks in a bar at the top of a skyscraper and sit near a window and I’ll politely say no freakin’ way. So when my mother asked me to go on a hot air balloon ride with her to celebrate her retirement, I nearly laughed. But since she was bidding on the excursion at an auction and I was SURE there was no way she’d win, I stupidly said yes.
Note to self: Do not ever agree to something you’re deathly afraid of!
Today was the day of doom. My hubby, my brother, my mom and I headed up to Newberg, Oregon for the dreaded hot air balloon ride. We had to get up at the butt-crack of dawn, and since I’m NOT a morning person and was already starting to stress, you can imagine my mood. The first thing we did when we got there was sign a waver stating we understood all the risks associated with hot air ballooning. My favorite? “Risk of arrest and incarceration” from landing in unauthorized areas. This lightened my mood considerably.
Then they started filling the balloons.
You can just see the excitement radiating from me, can’t you?
Actually, watching the balloons fill was fascinating. First they blew air inside with enormous fans, then heated the air with giant (what my brother called) flame throwers.
Once the balloon was inflated, they tipped the basket up and we all piled in. This was where the nerves kicked in. Our basket was divided into three sections: One for the pilot, then two for passengers. There were 10 passengers in our balloon – the Northwestern, apparently the largest hot air balloon basket in the Pacific Northwest (or so they said). Standing in the basket, watching the other balloons launch was really cool. Until I felt ours lift off. (Enter Xanax…which is a Godsend!)
I was amazed at how fast we lifted off the ground. Within seconds we were a thousand feet up. Surprisingly, the balloons are extremely peaceful. You feel like you’re gliding, which you are. The only time there’s noise is when the pilot turns on the burners for short spurts. I was fine so long as I didn’t look down. Of course, I had a death grip on the padded edge of the basket (like that would have done any good had something gone wrong), but after a few minutes in flight, I found myself enjoying the ride. (And again, I’m sure the Xanax played a big part in that!)
View of the Willamette Valley looking east.
This is one of my favorite shots – over the Willamette River. The sky was hazy from forest fires far off in the Cascades, but an absolutely breathtaking view regardless. My husband (who is not afraid of heights) wasn’t nervous at all until the pilot announced we were going to do a “splash and dash”. Since he doesn’t swim, that freaked him out way more than the flight itself. But for me it was the most relaxing moment of the entire flight!
Yes, what you’re seeing is correct. Our basket is basically sitting on the surface of the Willamette River. I took this shot as we watched another balloon land. We floated downstream with the current for a few minutes then took off again (much to my husband’s relief), leaving a waterfall of water behind as we flew out over manicured fields toward our landing site.
Aside from how quiet the balloon was, the other thing that surprised me was the temperature. I was expecting it to be cold up there in the sky, but between the burner directly above and the inversion layer that was actually warmer than ground level, I was hot. There was no wind, so I didn’t need the hat I’d brought with me, and the landing was a piece of cake. Not even a jolt as the basket touched down in a field miles from where we started. To be honest, the only disappointment to the entire trip was that it didn’t last longer than about an hour. Now who would have ever thought I’d be disappointed the flight was too short?
We piled out of the basket, helped take the balloon down and load it in the trailer, then we crammed ourselves in vans (enter claustrophobia!) and went back to the launch site where they had a champagne brunch laid out for us.
All in all, a perfect day. And one I’m really glad I got to experience. Am I still afraid of heights? You betcha, but I was okay so long as I didn’t look straight down. I have to admit the entire experience was really fun. And you never know…a hot air balloon may wind up in a future book someday!